The Mind that Stayed

Mihir

Not daring to move so as to not give away my hiding place inside the ducting vent of the air-conditioning unit. I watched with every muscle in the left side of my body on fire from lack of movement for the last forty-five odd minutes. He finally got up from his desk and picked up his cell, wearing his coat as he walked to the door. Time was running out, my partner and look-out Amita would be looking out for me about now. Still I dare not move yet, I took a deep breath and Tahir started counting in reverse. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”

Ambrish stopped at the door and walked back to his mahogany desk, as I groaned in my mind, he opened a drawer and pulled out a thick manila file from it. Then he walked out of the door and pulled it shut, I slid the vent panel, having loosened it earlier and swung down into the room, crossing over lithely to the desk and quickly inserted the flash drive into the computer.

“Hurry up! Hurry up!” Tahir, my twin’s, voice echoed in my ear, “You’ve got to get out before Amita is discovered!”

“Yes, dude, will you stop nagging,” I mentally replied back, ‘you’re like an old grandmother, always worrying!”

“Someone has to, since you always leap before you look!”

“Okay bro, this is it. What do I do now?” Tahir’s instructions came through and I hit a couple of commands watching as the program uploaded into the system. The client would be pleased, he now has backdoor access to Ambrish’s system and all that it contains, I thought exiting the room the same way I entered. I ran out of the building and ran towards the shadows where Amita waited in the idling getaway car.

“Let’s get out of here,” grinning as I threw myself into the seat next to her, “Mischief managed!” I could imagine Tahir rolling his eyes, sure enough, “Grow up!” floated into my mind as the ESP we shared connected us like no technologically advanced communication device could.

“I nearly called you a minute ago, when I saw Ambrish’s car leave. What happened? He wasn’t supposed to be here today!” asked a visibly tense Amita as she carefully navigated the dark roads of the Gurgaon-Faridabad highway.

“I too got the shock of my life when I saw him sitting on the desk. Luckily I saw him before I entered the room else I’d be a string puppet by now,” I quipped.

“Mihir, please be serious,” scolded Amita.

“Chill, Ams! It was a set-back but it’s over with now,” I broke in before her tirade turned into a lecture.

“So where to now?” she questioned pointedly letting me know I wasn’t off the hook just yet.

“Drop me off at Striker’s Babe, meeting the gang there. Why don’t you join in?” I asked knowing that she would refuse. This was a conversation we had regularly. I would ask her to join me in a night of drunken revelry and she would refuse. There was a time the three of us Tahir, Amita and me would drink and dance the night away, not now. Not since Tahir was diagnosed.

“Not tonight Mihir,” she replied.

“He still loves and misses you, you know,” I watched a shadow flit across her face.

She sighed, “I do too.”

“So are we done with this case?”

“Yeah, done and dusted.”

The three of us, my twin Tahir, Amita, who was Tahir’s girl at the time, had started Matrix Services twelve years back, fresh out of college. Growing up on a diet of Christie, Holmes and graduating to the likes of Clancy, Baldacchi we were always sure we wanted to be ‘Private Eyes.’ Tahir the brain of the operations was a computer whizz kid while Amita the voice of reason took care of the admin as well as finance side of the agency. Athletics and sports made up for the mediocre student that I was and martial arts after that made me the brawn for the team. We’d grown from handling small time shadowing of errant spouses to providing hard-core intelligence and espionage services to corporates. With a team of fifty now, we had made a name for ourselves in the industry. Amita always worried about the risks I took, usually partnered with me like today.

“The money came in from the client, this morning. I’m glad this case is over. Ambrish is a powerful man with his wife being the sister of one of the country’s leading politician, we took a big risk with this one,” Amita said in a worried tone.

“They were offering an obscene amount of money just to plant a simple program in a computer, Ams. It was a cakewalk. Stop worrying, you’re as bad as Tahir!”

To which my twin snorted, “ And you are a bull-headed idiot who won’t listen to reason.”

Eager to get them both off my back I asked, “Listen, since there’s nothing more on the calendar for me, would you mind holding the fort while I took off for a few days to skydive with Dave in Italy? He called yesterday and has everything arranged. My Visa is still valid from the case last month, so I just have to buy a ticket and be off.”

“What does Tahir think?” asked Amita.

“That he’s an idiot with a death wish,” pat came Tahir’s reply.

“Tahir objects as always, he’s sulking right now. You know him, he’ll natter and nag and then give me the silent treatment.”

“Okay Mihir, but you take care.”

“Sure Babe. See you then in a week or so, meanwhile I’ll be reachable on my cell.” I said kissing her on the forehead.

The sound of the incessant ringing of my cell cut through the dense fog in my brain as I slept off last night’s drunken excesses. I opened one eye and groaned in pain as a ruthless beam of light entered and went straight into the right side of my head. I burrowed into the pillows hoping to block out the cause of my return to consciousness into what was turning out to be a hellhole of hammering that would surely lead to my brain bleeding out of my ears. The ringing stopped briefly and began again, bringing with it a fresh doze of torment, I picked up the phone from the table beside the hotel bed and answered with my tongue thick as sandpaper, “Ams, this better be good.”

“Mihir, you’ve got to get back fast. All hell’s broken loose! Ambrish’s goons thrashed our office last night, and killed Subhash, the security guard. The cops are all over the place,” her frantic whisper brought me back to the land of living.

“They better not get into the client files!” I instructed, “I’ll be on the next flight out. Ams call Prakash he’ll slow things down till I get there.”

It was a week since the night I had planted the virus in Ambrish’s laptop, having completed the dive in Amalfi two days back, I was in Rome now. I hit the ground running, downing a couple of pain meds to deal with a mother of all hangovers and was out of the hotel on my way to the airport in an hour.

“Amita should not be handling this alone,” Tahir berated.

“Prakash, is the head of our legal team, he will help Amita stall the cops.”

I worried that with Ambrish’s connections it would not be for long. As I dealt with my nausea and vile-headed feeling in the cab I cursed myself for giving into Dave’s suggestion of hitting the watering holes of Rome. I should have returned to Delhi immediately. Some of our client files were sensitive. They must not fall into the hands of the cops. Matrix would be ruined.

“You could activate the self-destruct safeguard, I built into the software,” Tahir reminded, “but only you can do that as it requires your biometric scan.”

I called Amita from the airport, “there’s a non-stop flight out of here at 2 p.m. I’m taking that will land at 2 a.m. India time. Ams just hold it together till then.”

“Prakash is handling the cops. They hardly seem to be interested in Subhash’s murder, it’s our files they’re after. Ambrish is probably worried about what information we’ve taken off his system.”

“Yeah, I guess so. What he doesn’t know is that we have nothing. The virus was designed to give the client access, not us. Ask the team not to go home tonight, with everyone around the cops will be careful. I need to get to the office as soon as possible, the client files have to be safeguarded.”

“Okay. I’ll pick you up at the airport. We can also talk on the way.”

I was one of the first ones out of the flight and as I had no check-in baggage, quickly exited the gates at the Indira Gandhi International Airport and joined Amita in the idling car.

“Most of cops left a couple of hours ago; there are only two constables to ensure we don’t take anything out of the office. It’s been a circus all day, with the police, the media and client calls,” she filled me in with the happenings of the day as she drove.

“Sorry Babe. I didn’t foresee any of this.”

As we entered the office, the team looked up at me exhausted and at the same time hopeful. The two constables looked on with curiosity, as Amita, Prakash and I spoke to the rest of the team in the conference room. I needed them to distract the two cops so that I could run the biometrics. The team understood and we all got to work.

With Tahir’s voice in my head directing me again, within minutes all our sensitive client data was wiped clean from the system. My brother was a bloody genius, nobody could retrieve this data, of that I was sure.

The immediate threat taken care of, barring two of the team members I asked everyone to go home and rest. Tomorrow was bound to be another long day.

Amita dropped me home and I crashed. I woke up suddenly, gasping for air as a large rough hand pressed over my mouth, then I felt the cold steel of a gun’s barrel pressing down on my temple.

“Make one sound and you’re dead, understood?” threatened a whispered command in the darkness.

I nodded. The hand moved away and I pulled myself into a sitting position on the bed. As my eyes adjusting to the darkness darted around the room I could make out the shape of three stocky men standing at various points. Just as unexpectedly, the lights were switched on and I shielded my eyes with my arm from the onslaught of light. My blood ran cold on seeing Ambrish sitting on the lazyboy in front of my bed.

“Well, Mr Mihir we seem to have a bit of a problem,” his voice had a startling softness and sophistication that was unnerving in the circumstances. His eyes locked unblinkingly on mine and held for several intimidating seconds.

“You’re a smart young man I’m told,” he continued, “so lying and wasting my time could turn out to be a very bad idea.”

I felt Tahir’s fear rise like bitter bile in my throat, “Don’t get cocky, Mihir. Just tell him what he wants to know.”

“I know that you planted a program in my computer that opened a back door for someone to access sensitive information that has cost me a fortune.” he paused, “How do I know, you wonder? That was a no brainer once I realised someone had hacked into my system. You see, every programmer leaves his so called cyber fingerprint on his programs and my cyber-sleuths easily figured out yours.”

I had no doubts that Ambrish knew that I was working for someone else and not myself.

“And to anticipate the question that’s probably in your mind, I want the name of the man who hired you. I have my suspicions who it could be but need confirmation! So, Mihir are you going to make this easy for yourself or do you need coaxing from my associates?”

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!” whispered Tahir.

I knew I would be signing my death warrant if I gave up the information easily, for once Ambrish had the name my life would be expendable. The only thing I could do now was to buy some time.

“I don’t know the name of the client. We never met him, all the conversations were over the phone.”

As soon as the words left my mouth the three men moved in a blur of motion, two held my arms and yanked me off the bed, almost pulling my arms off their sockets they then threw me face down on the floor and the third pulled my head up and stuffed my mouth with a cloth stretching a duct tape across it. Then they proceeded to kick me brutally in the gut, a scream rose in my throat but was stifled by the cloth in my mouth. After what seemed like eons but was probably a few seconds they stepped back as I lay there panting with pain from the blows.

“I told you to not act cocky,” I heard Tahir’s voice through the thick fog of pain that cloaked all else in my brain.

“Shut up, Tahir.”

Raising my head painfully I saw Ambrish flick some imaginary lint off his trousers.

“I don’t appreciate being lied to Mihir,” he spoke in his soft voice that was more menacing in its calmness. “The only reason you’re still alive is because I need that confirmation. I can just as easily get it from your lady partner. I would not try my patience too much. Should I ask my associates to remove the gag? Will you behave now?”

I nodded and they roughly pulled off the duct tape and propped me up against the wall.

“So let’s begin again, shall we Mihir? What is the name of your client?”

“Talwar,” I lied again.

I didn’t know the name of the client. I was telling the truth the first time; all our dealings had been over the phone. Talwar was Ambrish’s arch enemy, a ruthless real estate baron, it was the name that he was probably hoping to hear from me. I knew I would not live through the night, the least I could do was save Amita.

“Thank you for all your help, Mihir. I wish you’d stayed away from my affairs,” he sighed as he stood up and walked towards the door. “Make it quick, boys.”

They gagged me again, and tied my hands behind my back, I was barely able to resist. Then one of them pulled a silenced gun out from its holster and shot me in the chest. I felt myself jerk and slump sideways down on the floor. There was an intense burning sensation in my chest, I saw the blood pooling on the floor in front of me, then the pain hit me and I began to black out.

“Walk towards the light bro,” Tahir’s words floated across as the blackness descended upon me.

Amita

I stood there with tears in my eyes looking at Mihir’s broken body lying in a pool of his own blood. It had been a few hours since I had found him like this. There were a number of people milling about in his one room apartment now.

A cop, probably an SP, approached me, “Do you know his next of kin, they would have to be informed?”

“No, there’s no one.” I re[lied quietly.

“His parent’s died in a road accident when he was ten. His twin and he were brought up by their uncle who also died a few years ago.”

“His twin? Where is he? Shouldn’t he be informed?”

I looked at him for a long moment, “Tahir died,” I said, “three years back, he had cancer.”

 

 

 

Mom Rights Anyone?

VIP movements resulting in the school declaring a holiday on Monday!! Yayy and other similar squeals of excitement erupted from the tween. I sent up a silent hallelujah thanking the heavens for granting me an extra forty winks on a cold winter morning. This was how we wound down the Sunday without Monday morning blues plaguing us.

As a Mom you know that happiness such as this is short lived and all good things come with a price. Egg-jactly!! For the next day was spent trying to first get her out of bed, which was achieved at noon (please those perfect mommy’s whose kids wake up at the crack of dawn out there kindly do not judge this only to human Mother!!) Then began the task of coaxing her into the bathroom to have her shower, Whhhhyyyy Mom!! It’s a holiday!! And it’s sooooo coolllldddd!! All the moaning to test the patience of a saint (which I’m not.) Then the struggle to get her off the various gizmos we indulgent and completely ignorant parents buy when the brat makes her puppy face with promises galore on how she will be more responsible.

“Aaah!” I thought as I settled down with me well earned cuppa of green tea and much needed yet weak vitamin D after lunch (the first meal of the day in the tweens case.)

She saunters into my sanctuary of peace. “Mom, listen!” she goes dramatically, “Here’s a load of research on why we should get a dog.”

As I rolled my eyes at this oft-repeated conversation she carried on unfazed.

“Spending just 15-20 minutes with your dog can help you with managing stress.”

“Who’s stressed?” I ask.

“Uff, listen Mom. Having a dog may help reduce cardiovascular diseases.”

To which a panicked me asks, “Who’s got cardiovascular diseases in the house? Pray tell me!”

All I get is a frown in return for speaking out of turn as always.

“They are a girl’s best friend!” she continues.

“What’s wrong with your human best friend?” I ask concerned, “Did the two of you fight?”

“Moooommmm! Please take this seriously!” she admonishes and reads out more, “Having a dog makes kids responsible!” she looks at me triumphantly, hearing her lack off in that arena almost all day from me.

To which I snort and choke on my tea most unladylike.

“Mom, you know what? The animal rights people should really give you a talking to!”

“And what about Mom rights?” I ask, “Why isn’t there someone talking about those, I wonder.”

“There’s no such thing as Mom Rights!” she informs me very pointedly.

“Then it’s high time we made some,” I say. “The first one is Moms should be allowed to have their tea in peace. Second, Children should obey Mothers without questioning the ways and wherefores in a minimum of three conversations a day. Thirdly, Moms should be allowed weekly offs where children do all the housework and Moms recline in bed.” I’m happily on a roll, ignoring her expression of disbelief.

Just then the teen ambles in, “Feeling hungry, Mom! Where’s my post lunch snack?” Mother’s of 12th grade boys will only understand this creature that studies all day and some strange hours of the night and eats a minimum of 8 meals a day.

I sigh and get moving, peace eluding me yet again. After feeding the teen his after lunch snack I sit down to write this to seek solidarity and a movement, ladies for “MOM RIGHTS!” Who all are with me?

Mr Right & Mrs Always Right Buy A Car

It was the summer of 2012 and a good eight months before my birthday when the man started to get worried about my ‘four-oh.’ Reason, I’d thrown him a big surprise bash for his, a few months back! Since organising parties had always been my forte and I do happen to throw some pretty good ones. He was understandably anxious I would be disappointed when the time came for mine.  So biting his nails thoughtfully while I read the Saturday morning paper with my cuppa in hand and brain still in the zzzzzs, he casually brings up the topic and asks what I wanted for my big day.

‘A new car,’ I said, to his utter astonishment. He was expecting a holiday to exotic locales, an obnoxiously expensive bauble or something equally outrageous that ‘women’ want. But, a car, not in his wildest dreams!  HE was the automobile aficionado, I had always driven whatever was handed down to me from my Dad, Dad-in-law, him, probably from my son too (if I’d waited till he had his own set of wheels.) But, if you’re a child of the 70’s you’d know the feeling of wearing hand-me-down clothes that passed from the older siblings, hell even cousins, if you were that unlucky. So yes! I’ve always wanted my own new car.

Not one to look the gift horse in the mouth, and before I changed my ‘fickle female mind,’ we set out to look for the perfect wheels for me. When I asked for a ‘small’ car, he was all smiles, what could be better, not only did I want an automobile, which was a thing he understood, I wasn’t going to burn too big a hole in his pocket! Perfecto! What fun we had for the next two months from Honda’s, Hyundai’s, Skoda’s, Ford’s, etc, we paid every dealership a visit. The kids had their own opinions and as Mom’s car is the one that zips them to their myriad classes and social activities, sure, they were entitled! We looked at the Hyundai i10 and I felt it was too small. My son wanting to dissuade me from the Honda Brio which I seemed to be leaning toward cooked up a cock and bull story of how he had seen one whose rear windshield flew off after a truck nudged it from behind. Really! Did he think I was born yesterday! Apparently he did! Hmmm…Coming sooner than I thought! The daughter decided she wanted the new version of the Zen as it was PINK! We shuddered and scooted out of that showroom as quick as a wink.

We finally narrowed down to the Skoda’s, Fabia. Why?  Because for me it just felt right when I drove it! To which my dearest better half rolled his eyes and promptly got into the horse power, engine capacity, mileage and endless list of stuff that goes on under the hood with the sales guy while I fell into a stupor induced by sheer boredom. The kids gave their sanction on the basis that it was ‘okay’ to be seen in by their peer group, certainly not the best but, not the worst either! We took my shining new beauty home, it was love at first sight for me and I couldn’t have been prouder. The Man and I constantly competed on whose car was better kept and a better drive, with him on certain generous occasions acceding that mine was a more convenient drive sometimes, ‘mind it’ only sometimes. While I always said his Volkswagen Vento was a bumbling giant on the roads over whose bonnet I could not see the road (my opinion only, please do not sue me Volkswagen people.)

We had some great times over the next two and a half years, the Fabia and I.  Some funny and one or two that had my kids dragging me off the roads back home as they thanked the almighty!!

Violence on Women as Depicted in Literature

Literature has always served as a mirror of society, projecting its virtues and reflecting the ills that plague it. ‘A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance. – Dario Fo.’ Violence against women as depicted in Literature, the idea is a complex phenomenon which takes on a range of colors. Here are but a few examples.

In the Greco-Roman stories, women were perceived to be more sexual objects than individuals. In Livy’s account of the rape of Lucretia, a free woman, accepts the ordeal of rape as Sextus threatens her with disgrace, saying that he would kill her and lay his dead slave naked besides her, justifying her murder as that of an adulteress. Hesione, the Princess of Troy, was offered as a virgin sacrifice by her own father to the sea monster to allay the wrath of Posiedon. Imagine a prepubescent girl tied to rocks with violent waves crashing around, the fear of being devoured by a sea monster paralyzing her, as she awaits her doom. What it brings to mind is filial apathy at its worst.

Medieval Literature influenced by the distortion of Judeo-Christian teachings finds the female stereotyped as either saints who rejected their sexuality or as the very personifications of temptation that was Eve. The need to repress women as their unruly character leads to the downfall of men, is found in the portrayal of the women characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. From the destruction of the Amazons, to the attempted branding of Alison with a ‘red hot poker,’ to the caricature of The Wife of Bath representing all that is undesirable in a woman. ‘Born to thralldom and penance, and to been under mannes govern.’ Custanse resigns herself to her fate, in spite of being an Emperors’ daughter. Violent acts by husbands on wives was fairly common and women were considered ‘property’ of their husbands. Because they were ‘thralls’ subjugated to their husbands to direct, the female protagonists of Chaucer are representative of the lot of women in the 14th Century which was not only patriarchal but also severely misogynist.

It was true that violence visited against women in the Elizabethan age was also a normal occurrence. In Shakespeare’s time, a man had the right to treat his wife as he saw fit. A woman was something that belonged to her father and then her husband. In Othello, Desdemona’s death scene sends chills down ones spine, our tragic ‘hero’ would ‘not shed her blood’ nor would he ‘scar’ her beauty yet he would kill her ‘else she will betray more men.’ The word of the dead Cassio and the liar Iago weighed against her every utterance, begging for understanding from the man she loves. Her desperate attempts to be spared long enough to ‘say one last prayer’ prove futile.

In 1828 the Offenses Against the Person Act in England, helped to bring amongst others the issues of abuse of women out from the home into the public arena. Even though Victorian Society did not appreciate this ‘airing of dirty laundry’ many writings of the time were greatly influenced. Charlotte and Emily Bronte’s works Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, used violence as a component in drawing attention to the subtler pattern of cruelty present in the household. Victorian novels openly illustrated the offensive behavior of men due to their own misapprehensions about the women that they intimidated, threatened and eventually killed. The description of Syke’s murder of Nancy in Dicken’s Oliver Twist has always shocked readers. He ruthlessly bludgeons her to death and even after, that it is based on one of the most infamous murders of the Victorian age expounds the horror.

Over the last 150 years authors both male and female have written about the role of women in society and the feminist movement has brought to the forefront the issues of violence in the lives of everyday women. Margaret Atwood in ‘The Handmaiden’s Tale’ explores a dreadful futuristic world under theocracy. Nobokov’s ‘Lolita’ a controversial first person narrative of a middle aged man’s sexual relationship with his twelve year old step-daughter. Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’ shocks us with rape, incest, homosexuality, racism at its worst. Khaled Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ follows the lives of two women whose fates intersect under one of the most regressive regimes in the modern world and how domestic violence affects them both. ‘Pinjar’ by Amrita Pritam is one of the most helpless portrayal of a Hindu woman kidnapped by a Muslim man to feed fat an ancient family grudge. What makes the tale more poignant is that when she does manage to escape she has nowhere to go, but back to him as her own flesh and blood turn her away. Overlooking violence against women is not realistic, literature proves time and again that it is intrinsic to the very fabric of any society in any time.